Year in Review: Cyber-Security, Health IT Remain Important Issues for 2010

Upgrading legacy health systems and using shared services will be among government's priorities.

by / December 17, 2009

With 2009's budget issues, it's been a rough year for most jurisdictions. Experts say 2010 will bring more of the same. According to Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), tight budgets will continue to be the top challenge for state IT executives. "That's clearly going to be the major item on their mind," he said, adding that trends toward consolidation and shared services would continue into 2010.

But government IT officials will confront other issues that will demand their attention, and in some cases, they'll to have to find creative ways to pay for them.

Cyber-security will grow in importance for governments, especially as security threats become more geared toward stealing sensitive information, Robinson said. "States are the nexus of everybody's identity."

Health IT may also require investment in 2010, as health-care expenses have overtaken education as the top state budget item, and reducing health-care costs has become a priority for governors. Also, many IT systems for administering federal programs like Medicaid are becoming antiquated and will need an overhaul in the next few years.

Changes in the nation's education systems also are likely, and technology has a role to play there. The National Governors Association proposed new standards for testing and accountability in education, which could result in new legislation, he said. The federal stimulus package also may have an impact. "There's a fairly significant set of initiatives on the Recovery Act about student data systems, and there may be legislation that the states start looking at related to that."

Because education and health IT are important to governors, Robinson said CIOs will compete for funds to execute those projects. He said roads, bridges and public facilities also are under strain and require investment. "So the physical infrastructure, which is seen, may get a lot more attention than the digital infrastructure."

That means CIOs may need to get clever to secure project funding -- a difficult task even in good times. Typically, Robinson said, 70 to 80 percent of CIOs' budgets go to maintenance and regular operations. "There's not a lot there for innovation and new services," he said. "So I think in 2010, it may just hold the line."

Finding money for technology may be tough, but it's not impossible. Robinson pointed to agencies using bond funds and shared savings arrangements with the private sector: "Rather than relying on general fund or relying on fee-for-services, which they often do, looking at innovative funding arrangements can help them get over their current financial dilemma."

Shared services and other collaborative efforts also could help state and local jurisdictions cut costs. "That's certainly going to be something that's going to help jurisdictions survive the next couple of years -- cross-boundary collaboration," Robinson said.

At the local level, Julia Pulidindi, senior policy analyst for the National League of Cities, said many local governments will focus their energies on broadband projects. Besides initial rollout efforts, she said the fact that broadband would become available in places where it previously wasn't would open many opportunities and challenges for governments in the IT arena. While broadband access will help governments better serve constituents, these localities can expect to put forth a significant investment into IT systems that power these improvements.

"How will they fund paying for upgrading technology, given the budget challenges local governments are facing right now?" she said. "And are there enough talented information technology people out there to meet the demands of maintaining an efficient technology system that really is useful for local governments as they do their work?"

Other noteworthy local government trends in 2010 are using social networks to reach constituents and using IT for better governance. Pulidindi offered Baltimore's CitiStat as an example of how technology can improve the way government does business. Although using IT to improve governance isn't new, said Pulidindi, it hasn't become commonplace in local government yet. "If they're able to hear about what's going on around the country, they can use these concepts and adapt it to the needs they have locally," she said.

One challenge of social networks is educating officials on Web 2.0's usefulness for government, she said. Robinson added that social media has security and legal challenges that must still be resolved.

"The policies are generally always behind the technology deployments," he said, "and they run to catch up."